The first 24 hours of our grand adventure north was a tale of trains, planes, and automobiles. So much distance to travel to reach the beautiful Alaskan wilderness!
It began with a late night flight into Anchorage. We managed to find flights at an insanely reasonable rate, but that price came only with one airline, and that airline literally had one flight to Anchorage a day, late at night. I briefly considered flying in the night prior, as it wouldn’t require any extra days off from work (Friday night instead of Saturday), but I didn’t really care to putter around the city by myself for a day, and in the end, I was grateful for the extra day to finish pulling my things together.
The craziest thing about that flight was the sun. This far north, the sun sets very late; daylight clings on well past 9pm. So when we took off around 9, the horizon still held a glow… and that glow just never went away. When we landed several hours later, it was still dusk – well past midnight.
The next day, we woke to drizzle as we packed our things, called an Uber, and made our way to the train station. Checking our bags was considerably easier than in an airport (if a bit more wet), and we then waited for our train.
Our accommodations in “Adventure Class” aboard the Denali Star were quite pleasant. There was no wireless aboard, and we were lucky to even get signal when we passed a town here and there. However, there was more than enough room to spread out, and some chose to take advantage of that, sleeping away much of the trip. I, for one, couldn’t fathom sleep when there was so much to photograph.
I wandered back and forth, from the dining car to the car with the viewing bubble, filming clips (Aaron insisted I do a bit of filming in his absence) and snapping interesting vantages.
But my favorite spots, by far, were those between the cars. These were open air, bare to the cool wind and the crisp air, and with unhindered views of the passing landscapes. I’d shoot from one side, then dash to the other, then race to the far end of the dining car to get a different view of the cars both forward and back. And just when I would tire of a view and return to my seat for a bit of a break, I’d notice something new that tickled my fancy. Or I’d race back to my seat to change out a lens.
And all throughout, our conductor (in an honest-to-goodness train conductor hat) would pop on the intercom to announce a passing site or point out spotted wildlife. There’s a moose, or here you can espy the “Dr. Seuss Tower.”
Along the way, we passed lakes, rivers, mountains, and marshlands; the famed Hurricane Gulch Bridge 296 feet above the creek.
We even passed Summit, which is the highest point of the rail and where it claims to cross the Continental Divide. However, in attempting to verify this, maps of the Great Divide show it actually snakes much farther north through Alaska, so I don’t understand how we could have been anywhere near it south of Denali. I’m calling baloney on that claim, but if you happen to have any information on this, I would love to hear from you!
We also passed a recreational park where a line of kayakers saw fit to drop their drawers and give the passing train a bit of moonshine. I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to catch that… but you’re probably thinking that’s a good thing!
All told, we rolled into the Denali station about 7.5 hours later, tired from the journey, and hungry for some real food. Fortunately, Healy was more than happy to offer us the 49th State Brewery, where we returned each night for their killer frozen margaritas.
Day 1: train: achievement unlocked!
Stay tuned next week for Day 2: bus!
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